Liz Kammel Tilatti Takes On Denim – ZipFit
Buying clothes is difficult for a lot of reasons. Questions abound: what’s in style this season, what color brings out your eyes, and most importantly, what fits best. Fit is the bane of every avid shoppers’ existence – a Small in one brand is a Large in another, and even when you find the perfect item, you can never be sure if the local store has your size in stock. No item presents more frustration than jeans. There seem to be an endless supply of cuts, styles (are bell bottoms back in fashion?) and brands. So how do you get a great fitting, highly quality piece of denim every time?
Enter ZipFit. They use algorithms based on other jeans you like, or how your body is constructed, in addition to in-person fittings to come up with the perfect pair of jeans. Thanks math: whoever said calculus wouldn’t be useful after high school was clearly lying. Techweek’s Head of Media, Prab Kumar, spoke to ZipFit Co-Founder Liz Kammel Tilatti to learn more.
- Prab: What are three stats that show how important your company’s impact has been or signifies the growth your business/market has seen?
Liz: ZipFit is the best place in the country to buy jeans. We have an incredibly low return rate (~5%) and fit every shape and size imaginable (28-50 for men up to a 38” inseam, and women’s sizes 22-34 up to a 38” inseam including plus size 12-26).
- Prab: Nice! Buying jeans is super tough. What’s the quick elevator pitch on ZipFit?
Liz: ZipFit is a Fit First company. We currently help you find your best fitting designer jeans quickly with a one-stop-shop approach. After your first fitting with us, you can re-order online with ease.
- Prab: Makes sense. How, when and why did you found your company?
Liz: I came up with the idea when I was carpooling in the weekend program at Chicago Booth. My first job was at the Gap in high school selling jeans, I interned at Mark Shale on the buying side, and spent a few years out of undergrad building a database very similar to what we are building at ZipFit. When I started at Booth, it was just pulling the pieces together.
- Prab: When you originally started the company, what critical problem did you set out to solve? Has that changed today?
Liz: We aimed to solve fit – a massive problem with online shopping – and even in-person. Personally, fit has never been easy for me nor most of my friends. What was challenging for us was picking the correct business model. We ended up pivoting a few times and finally figuring it out. We offer in-person fitting and easy re-orders online.
- Prab: What do you credit for your success as a leader: attitude, talent, experience?
Liz: I grew up with entrepreneurs in my family – my father, many aunts, an uncle. Hard work was expected in everything we did, and I saw that the path is not easy. However, it was also clear to me during grad school that was my passion. I love everything about building, and the ultimate version of that is building a company.
- Prab: How did you find your co-founders and first few employees?
Liz: Seth, our CTO was introduced to me be a fellow classmate from Booth. At the early stages, most people were warm leads. As we grow more, I had to search for hires on LinkedIn. Just like sales to customers, I had to sell our vision to employees.
- Prab: Culture often comes from the top: how do you approach creating good culture?
Liz: I think setting an example is first and foremost. Everyone knows that I work hard and challenge myself, but time with family is also very important to me. I’m not afraid to hem a pair of jeans if we are in a pinch, fit someone for a pair of jeans, or ship out a pair if we’re at the holidays working like crazy. We’re a team, which means we do have specialties but we help each other out.
- Prab: Give us your favorite example of how you either hacked something to achieve your goal or hustled to come up with a creative solution around an obstacle.
Liz: Hustle is part of our backbone here at ZipFit. Every day there is a little (or big) challenge of some sort.
- Prab: What does good leadership mean to you? What key lessons in have you learned?
Liz: Good leadership means integrity to me. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to rip off a bandaid, but you also have to understand how people feel and continuously motivate them to succeed.
- Prab: What is one hard lesson you learned that you would share with others pursuing an entrepreneurial journey?
Liz: No does not mean no, it means not now. Many, many times you will be told no. And that is ok. But it does not mean forever. I had an investor tell me no about 5 times, and after we improved some of business metrics, I called again and asked the investor to reconsider. The investor did, and ended up being a great investor and supporter.
- Prab: If you could take back one decision you’ve made in the past 5 years, what would it be?
Liz: Goodness, you will make 1000 mistakes but it isn’t about regretting, it is about learning and moving on. I have learned from each mistake I have made, so I will take the more optimistic route and say the learning has actually helped me more.